Allyson Kramer takes on the challenge of creating not only vegan foods, but gluten free too. After living a vegan lifestyle for quite a few years by choice she was then diagnosed with Celiac disease. It doesn't seem to have fazed her one bit. She put all her energy into creating delicious meals that satisfy this double diet and all of us. Alyson blogs at ManifestVegan.com and recently published her first cookbook, Great Gluten Free Vegan Eats. Let's find out more.
You became a vegan as a teenager, what prompted that decision and how did your parents handle it?
There were multiple reasons why I became vegan as a teenager; much of it had to do with my family’s influence, actually. My sister had been a vegetarian for 10 years at the time, and my father was always talking about compassion as well as being an advocate for treating animals with respect. I also loved cooking, so I was always checking out new ways to prepare food and got really into vegetarian cooking at a young age.
It didn’t take long for me to learn about veganism when reading my vegetarian books, and the concept of eliminating all animal products from my diet and lifestyle seemed to resonate with me the most—both for my own health and for the health of the environment. My parents were not all that supportive or understanding at first, but they knew I was passionate about it.
I had a few moments where my mom or dad would be concerned about my health and they would make me drink cow’s milk or try and convince me to eat “some meat”, but over the years, they came to understand that veganism was important to me, and they eventually respected that. But, I do think it was a rather strange concept for them to grasp at first.
You embraced cooking at a very young age, what is your earliest memory of cooking?
I can remember being a very small child (maybe 2 years old?) when I first started hanging around with my mother in the kitchen while she cooked, but my first memory of accomplishing a recipe on my own was when I was 8 years old and in the 2nd grade. I spent the entire afternoon after school one day making a batch of cookies from a simple drop cookie recipe I found in my mother’s recipe box—which I have now converted to vegan and gluten free in my book as my “Sweetheart Cookies”. I followed the directions to a “t” and they came out wonderfully. I shared them with my classmates the next day at school and one of my closest friends declared, “Allyson, these are the best cookies I’ve ever eaten! I can’t believe you made them!” And, from that moment on I was hooked.
Did you ever think of going to Culinary School?
I did, but not until after I graduated from art school. I ultimately decided to put it off because I knew that many of the culinary programs I was looking into (especially those which were vegan friendly) taught basic concepts and cooking techniques that I had already learned from studying cookbooks and had been doing for years in my own recipe development. Although I knew I’d pick up some more knowledge and skills at culinary school, I wasn’t convinced it was the best path to doing what I really craved to do for a living: writing cookbooks.
I decided to give blogging a shot first, and it eventually evolved into me being able to write cookbooks full time without the need to go to culinary school.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about vegan food? And about Gluten Free food?
I think the biggest misconception about vegan and gluten-free food is that it is so restrictive! I wrote this book to show people that even though I eat vegan and gluten-free, I can still enjoy my ice cream, cake, cookies and pizza, and that it is just as delicious as the versions that contain animal products and/or gluten. Now when people ask me what do I eat, or how do I survive without cupcakes, I happily direct them to my book or my website to explain to them that there is a world of great eats out there for us gluten-free vegans.
You have a list of subs on your site and book that will help turn any recipe vegan. Is it really that simple?
Aside from the obviously more difficult foods to replicate, such as a steak, I do honestly think it’s pretty simple to convert foods to vegan versions. When I first became vegan I was overjoyed at how simple it was to replace eggs and milk in most recipes, and how well vegan cream cheese subs and other non-dairy options worked in place of traditional dairy foods. When you are making very basic recipes, such as simple cakes, cookies, pies, etc. yes, it’s really as easy as replacing cow’s milk for almond or soymilk, and eggs can be swapped out for healthier alternatives such as flaxseed or tofu. Cooking and baking are so fascinating to me because there are a variety of ways to come to ultimately the same conclusion. My list of vegan substitutions–which is hardly exhaustive--is simple proof of that.
How did you learn to take food pictures?
I went to art school for 6 years and even though I mainly studied painting and sculpture, knowing the fundamentals, of color, composition, and intention in making art was a world of help to me. The camera is just another tool to create with, so it came pretty easily to me—but it also took a lot of practice and persistence to learn about the camera and how I best like to use it as well. I took a few photography classes while in college, which helped introduce me to concepts such as light, processing photos, and basics like F-stop and ISO. Even today, I take around 200 photos a day and often try new techniques or approaches, so I’m still learning a great deal about food photography; I hope to continue to learn as long as I do it.
What do you recommend for someone interested in eating less gluten and less animal products?
Take a trip to your local library to get inspired by the vast number of books available on the subject/s today. And, check out my "links" page on my website and other countless sources on the web for gluten-free and or vegan eating. There is a wealth of culinary advice for anyone who is curious about cutting down on either and some beautiful and inspiring cookbooks on the market today. Also, I encourage everyone to just get in the kitchen and experiment using a simple vegan/gluten-free substitution guide. You may be surprised at just how much you can create without animal products or gluten!
What has been your greatest cooking influences?
My mother, my grandmother, as well as countless cookbook authors have influenced me tremendously in my cooking and baking. There are too many to list, but I’ve read hundreds of cookbooks in my time, and have picked up a valuable tip, trick, or technique from each along the way. Good friends, mothers of friends, chefs at my favorite restaurants, and pretty much anyone who has ever cooked delicious food around me have also been important in influencing my cooking over the years.
Can you share a tip for busy people who need to get dinner on the table?
Make a recipe with a large yield ahead of time and freeze in individual portions. Dishes like casseroles, pasta dishes or soups are wonderful for freezing, and can be portioned out before freezing for an easy (and still home-cooked) solution that’s on the table in less than 30 minutes. Just thaw and serve!
Thank you to Allsyon for being with us today and for sharing a few of her masterful recipes.